Today marked the opening of the Vanity Fair Portrait Exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. The level of my excitement could not be measured, if you knew me you would know what a fan boi of the magazine I am! It's a monthly bible of New York Culture chapter and verse... Its also a handbook, a photography manual as it were with examples of some of the most stunning photo portraiture ever created. Each month comes with more than a palpable anticipation for the next issue and once arrived I am rarely disappointed. Filled with modern day Photographers like Annie Leibovitz, Helmut Newton, Nan Goldin, Herb Ritts, Harry Benson,Robert Mapplethorpe, Mario Testino, Bruce Weber, Mary Ellen Mark and the photographers that paved the way Cecil Beaton, Man Ray, George Hurrall and Edward Steichen just to name a few.
The entrance to the museum and the exhibit properly underscored the magazines high society persona, a true sophisticated Vanity Fair.
This is an image of Margret Thatcher shown at the London exhibition, it's size certainly added to the feeling of dominance she had in life as Prime Minister. It was an amazing image to see in person.
Launched in 1913 by visionary publisher Condé Nast and editor Frank Crowinshield, Vanity Fair magazine strove to engage its cosmopolitan audience with the vibrant modern culture that sparkled at the beginning of the 20th century. It became a cultural catalyst, introducing and providing commentary on contemporary artists, personalities and writers of this sophisticated new era. With an alluring array of portraits of literary giants to memorable images of men and women of the Jazz Age were commissioned from the greatest photographers of the period in these early years. Among the vintage portraits shown in the exhibition are iconic images of H.G. Wells, Rebecca West, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Einstein, and Pablo Picasso. In 1936, Condé Nast decided to cease publication of Vanity Fair. This marked the end of the magazine’s vintage period.
Images of actress Marlene Dietrich were frequent on the pages of VF, The later image is by Edward Steichen.
Cary Grant, by George Hoyningen-Huene
Paul Robeson in The Emperor Jones
In the affluent eighties, the need arose for a new magazine of this type, and the title was revived in 1983. The vibrant cosmopolitan spirit of the time persuaded Condé Nast Publications to resurrect the magazine. Once again, the magazine succeeded in immortalizing the newsmakers of the day - individuals of talent, stature and accomplishment who were firmly embedded in the popular culture. Vanity Fair’s iconic photographs continue to make news. Post-1983 cover images include a very pregnant Demi Moore (1991), a formal portrait of President George W. Bush’s Afghan War Cabinet (2002) and, recently, actresses Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley photographed nude (2006).
Another hallmark to the magazine is its liberal political cometary... It goes with out saying the magazine has allways had a fascination with the Kennedy's and was clear on how they felt about George "Dubbya" Bush.
Lance Armstrong shot by Annie Leibovitz in her signature style.
Julianne Moore as Ingres's 'Grand Odalisque', New York City, by Michael Thompson
Michael Jackson on the cover of one of VF's most recent issues... The story of Vanity Fair can best be summed up in the rise and sometimes fall of the affluent celebrity world we live in today.
Leaving was hard but I plan on going several more times... Its one thing to see images as they appear in a magazine, but any printing process is an image at least twice removed form the original print. On my visit today I saw many tell-tale signs of how some of the images were made... On a Black and white print of comedian WC Fields the subtle pencil shading added dimensionality to what might of been flat background... While I would never dream of shading in one of my prints with a pencil it does speak to me about the impact of the enhancement to the believability of the image. I will look at images differently after today.
A small portion of my VF collection, perhaps 10 or 11 years worth... three things come to mind when I look at the stack in the image. No matter how poor I was the week each issue came out, a copy was purchased even if it meant I didn't eat that night, conversely and somewhat ironically I have always paid full newsstand price for each issue, one it fit my big city urban fantasy and two, subscriptions are so rural suburbia! Finally VF is still my next big goal in life... A cover or spread on the inside, doesn't matter. Anything would mean I would stand in the pantheon that is the modern photographer.
Note: Some of the images and some of the text (not specified) is copyrighted by Christopher Cushman. Some text via information gleaned at the ROM. Photo credits were given where possible.